One talking point in the AR world over the past year is that the technology is Covid-aligned. That goes for the social connection and whimsy of AR lenses, as well as product visualization in eCommerce. Online shopping has inflected and AR piggybacks on that to a degree.
Another area that’s AR-aligned is enterprise productivity. Using tools like Spatial, AR can support remote work in areas like collaborative design. In industrial settings, AR remote assistance supports social distancing, and the hybrid work structures we could see in a post-covid world.
There have been plenty of proof points for the Covid-accelerated social and eCommerce use cases mentioned above. But there’s less validation for enterprise use cases. The above points about remote assistance stand to reason, but we haven’t seen much evidence to support them.
For that reason, we’ve been on the hunt for any data to that effect. And we recently found some. So we’re highlighting these proof points for this week’s Data Dive. The data include various evidence for increases in enterprise AR deployments during the pandemic.
The first piece of evidence for AR’s covid-era inflections comes from Microsoft. The company tells the Wall Street Journal that it saw 44x growth in remote-assistance usage on HoloLens 2 during 2020. This is the most Covid-friendly flavor of AR in that it taps remote experts.
Logically speaking, this could be correlation rather than causation but Microsoft believes that this uptick is pandemic driven. It’s seeing the most AR usage in auto and semiconductor manufacturing, where Hololens 2 is being used for remote guidance in assembly and installations.
Vuzix likewise saw demand grow in 2020. Specifically, it reports that its top-line revenue doubled year-over-year to more than $4 million. Here again, it’s not definitive that this is pandemic-fueled or organic growth, but this does outpace the company’s previous growth trajectory.
Mercedes-Benz USA meanwhile trained more than 1,200 auto technicians at all 383 of its U.S. dealerships on remote-assistance processes using HoloLens 2. Similar to Porche’s AR program, Mercedes reports that 60 percent of complex maintenance issues can be solved within 24 hours.
“It’s a guided repair,” Mercedes-Benz USA VP of customer services Christian Treiber told the Wall Street Journal, “which helps the dealership technician be more efficient and effective.”
Name of the Game
One thing evident from the above examples is that enterprise AR has broad applicability across verticals and use cases. It’s not the silver bullet that was trumpeted in the circa-2017 hype cycle, but AR is finding fertile soil in many industrial settings, a few of which are shown above.
It’s also about timing. Enterprise AR’s value is evident in normal times. But it takes on new meaning when distanced interactions are the name of the game. In that way, the Covid-era could end up being a blessing in disguise for AR — like it is for eCommerce and a few other sectors.
The question is if the demand signals cultivated over the past year will sustain. Will the tools discovered during this period create permanent habits through a “mere exposure effect?” If so, it could bode well for AR’s sustained enterprise adoption in a post-Covid world.
Put another way, AR’s adoption has been accelerated over the past year. Through that process, the technology benefits from greater exposure. That could in turn support its longer-term sustained adoption as new habits are formed. We’ll be watching for more evidence of that.